Adventures: Unearthing the Okanagan

Columnist Ursula Maxwell-Lewis explores the bounty and beauty of Canada's only desert.

The spotted lake at Osoyoos.

Osoyoos, BC: Deserts have a mystic quality – particularly in this land linked more closely internationally with ice hockey, blizzards, and evergreens.

Squinting around the sun-drenched Nk’Mip vineyards, 18-hole Canyon Desert Golf Course, Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, and Spirit Ridge Resort to the lake beyond, I marvel at how Canada’s only desert has flourished under the Okanagan First Nation people, the wise stewardship of Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie, his band council, and their intelligent choice of business partners.

Chief Louie’s mantra, “Go to school, get a job, or get out!” has clearly paid  off.

Despite 32 degree Celsius June temperatures, golfers dodge sagebrush, kids splash in the pool, impressive local art highlights the 350-seat conference centre – and I adjourn to the cool-in-every-sense Talon’s Restaurant.

Top Chef Canada’s Executive Chef Jamie Hertz has tangy Watermelon Gazpacho topped with Avocado Cream, and possibly the best potato-crusted Pacific halibut I’ve yet to enjoy on the menu. Honestly, that’s not PR, nor is the observation influenced by the perfectly matched wine selection recommended by a sommelier with an appealing sense of humour who clearly knows his wines.

From my base at the pueblo-style Spirit Ridge Resort, I spend the next three days roaming this Southern Okanagan extension of the Sonoran Desert. A wide assortment of rare plants, birds and wildlife, including painted turtles, pygmy horned toads and endangered Western rattlesnakes, are respected and protected here. In fact, the rattlers are captured, tagged, and briefly hosted at a ”rattlesnake hotel” before being released again. No wonder naturalists, families, sun seekers, and wine aficionados flock to this region aptly nicknamed the Napa of the North.

http://webpapersadmin.bcnewsgroup.com/portals/uploads/cloverdale/.DIR288/WNaturalistGregByron.PhotoUrsulaMaxwell-Lewis--.jpgGreg Byron, a retired accountant and respected naturalist, owns Great Horned Owl Eco-Tours. He’ll tailor tours to particular interests, or you can join him for one of his varied small group day tours (includes a picnic lunch), as we did.

His respect for wildlife (and us) began with a few basic survival techniques.

[Naturalist Greg Byron, left. Ursula Maxwell-Lewis photo]

I learn that if I “stand tall and yell” I can scare off a black bear (probably).

“They swim fast and are eating machines,” our soft-spoken guide enlightens us.

If the yelling thing doesn’t work out, I gather I’m to throw him some food (the bear, not Greg), drop to the ground, and assume the fetal position. No mention of fervent prayer, but a close relationship with the Patron Saint of Travellers Facing Bears would undoubtedly be a connection worth having. At that point, it would be every man for himself anyway. Reluctantly, I sign the company release form, and check my backpack for yummy bear treats.

Among our stops was Spotted Lake. At first glance it looks polluted, but not so. Water surfacing over various underground minerals creates the unique circles. Known as a medicine lake by the Okanagan Nation, it contains record quantities of calcium, magnesium sulphate and sodium sulphates. There is a possibility a national park may be created around it to protect the fragile ecosystem.

Since the bear lecture turned out (thankfully) to be a formality, we settled for getting acquainted with a placid herd of Highland cattle at Covert Farms – a second-generation 700-acre organic spread basically flanking the McIntyre Bluffs http://webpapersadmin.bcnewsgroup.com/portals/uploads/cloverdale/.DIR288/wHighlandcalfs.Thewildlife.PhotoUrsulaMaxwell-Lewis--.jpgbasalt cliffs.

Cruising around in a red 1952 Mercury pick-up, Chef Derek Uhlemann, our host, handed out containers for harvesting our own sweet organic strawberries. The 100-mile diet is a reality here – as demonstrated by our grilled chicken organic country fare supper. Local wines are a given, of course, in the Okanagan, and this was no exception.

I now know my Sagebrush from my Antelope Brush (I think) plus I developed an admiration for natural backdrops such as Wild Blue Flax. My botany eduction far from being over, I decide to concentrate on the abundant Okanagan grapes without wrath harvested during the 200 sunny days long the Okanagan and Similkameen benches.

Reluctantly, after a final breakfast stop with locals at the popular JoJo’s Cafe in downtown Osoyoos, just blocks from Gyro Beach, my mini-holiday draws to a close.

The good news is – an easy four-hour road-trip can land me back here. Undiscovered wineries and bounty beckons. The best of summer is yet to be. Cheers!

When you go: check at www.DestinationOsoyoos.com for comprehensive trip-planning advice about the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys.

– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a British Columbia-based writer and photographer. She is also the founding editor/publisher of the Cloverdale Reporter.

Follow the Cloverdale Reporter on Twitter and Facebook. View our print edition online.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Surrey Mounties seeking dash-cam footage of Whalley road rage fight

Two men are alleged to have stabbed one another

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

IIO Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Police watchdog concludes Mounties didn’t shoot Fleetwood teen at strip mall

IIO finds tragic death of teenager ‘not the result of any actions or inactions’ by the Surrey RCMP

Fraser Health Overdose Alert.
Fraser Health issues Overdose Alert for Surrey

Health authority reports spike of overdoses in the last 24 hours

Emergency crews shut down White Rock’s Five Corners district on Feb. 19, 2020 after an altercation left an elderly man in critical condition. (File photo)
Trial dates set in White Rock manslaughter case

Proceedings against Ross Banner, 71, set for June 2021 in Surrey Provincial Court

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Most Read